Sterling Masters has basked in the lights and thunderous applause of a Broadway stage.
She’s performed in Japan and has been with Joffrey Ballet School, Kirov Academy of Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the N.C. School of the Arts. She’s the first North Carolinian to win all four age-group titles from Dance Masters of America.
Her next coveted goal, while preparing for her return to her native Charlotte as dance captain in the Broadway musical “Wicked” at Ovens Auditorium from March 13-31: three weeks of sleeping in the Myers Park house in which she grew up.
“I’ve been on the road for almost nine years. I’m just really proud to come home and stay with my parents,” says the 2003 graduate of Charlotte Latin School.
“We are lucky. On the ‘Wicked’ tour, we have two days off in-between every city, because our minimum engagement in every city is two weeks. And our show is 14 semi-trucks, so it takes 2 1/2 days for them to load it into the venue. So I would say every two-three months I’m in Charlotte for 48 hours.”
Home cooking has a broader definition for Masters, who’s a big fan of local restaurants. “I have to have my chicken parmesan at Portofino’s,” she says.
“Oh, we eat out a lot,” says Masters’ mother, Jami, “and we enjoy yoga, so we go to classes. We shop and visit, too.” She says she and her husband, Randy, occasionally travel to see Sterling perform but especially enjoy the home reunions.
The March homecoming will be Sterling’s latest stop on a journey that began at age 2 1/2, when she first stepped into her mother’s classes at Jami Masters’ School of Dance. Mom has been teaching for nearly 25 years out of her studio at the Park Road Shopping Center.
The two approach the art differently: “I teach a lot of children, and she’s performing most of the time,” Jami says. “She also sings, and I don’t do that – not as well, anyway. She took what I did with my life to another level.”
Still, Sterling is using some of Mom’s teaching gifts with “Wicked” – having taught entire roles, movement and blocking to each performer for almost three years.
The nuanced instruction provides an ongoing challenge.
“Anyone getting hired for a show like ’Wicked’ is at a certain skill level already,” says Masters, who has also taught at her mother’s studio. “It’s more about emphasizing character elements and blocking, the distinct style that particular show calls for and not so much the training they were brought up with.”
But she’s a performer at heart. Masters’ last extended trip home was in 2009, when she played the role of Lois in the international tour production of “A Chorus Line,” which she says was her most important learning experience as a performer. She has been a part of a touring production in Tokyo and has appeared in national tours of “Fosse,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
In a career usually dogged with job insecurity, Masters’ talents have kept her employed in theatrical roles nonstop since leaving Florida State University after one year in 2004.
“Being part of a show like this, I’m so fortunate,” says Masters, who turned 28 in late January. “Most shows in the arts on tour or on Broadway are in jeopardy of closing at any time. ’Wicked’ has been on for almost 10 years. And the show is so good, so well done.”
She says the first public performance she can recall was being in the chorus of “Annie” at Theatre Charlotte at age 6. Little did she know she would have performed in all 50 states except Hawaii by her 20s, “and every major city in Canada – and some not-so-major cities in Canada.
“Also, I just went to Hawaii, so I can say I’ve been to all 50 states.”
Even if her role is the same for an extended period, the diversity of audiences helps keep the work fresh. “Audiences are all different, depending on the part of the country you’re in. They relate to different parts of whatever show we’re doing. It’s crazy how the etiquette is different,” she says.
“In Canada, the audiences are much quieter during the show, but after the show they’re on their feet the second the curtain calls start. Japan was the same way.”
When asked for an estimate of how many miles she has traveled, she laughs. “I don’t know, but it would have to be insane,” she says. “The first couple years I was on tour, we traveled by bus. Now we fly.”
She says she’s still happy with the bright lights and hard work, and feels great physically after having arthroscopic surgery on her right hip in February 2009.
“I definitely want to perform for another five years or so,” she says. “But I see myself teaching more in the future.”
Reid Creager is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Reid? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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